Tristram Hunt announces today that he wants to put a stop to the policy of overhauling A-levels. That means that Labour isn’t going to do something that the Coalition says it is going to do. If the party wins next year’s General Election, it will not abolish AS-levels and will delay the overall reforms to consult further and allow schools to get used to the new GCSEs.
Hunt’s announcement is interesting for two reasons. The first is that it is yet another example of how the old education big tent has lost a lot of its pegs and poles, and Labour thinks it can pitch a rival tent elsewhere, whether that be Michael Gove’s fault, or someone else’s.
The second is that naturally Hunt is badging this as a break with Michael Gove’s school reforms, even though Gove is no longer in place. His bogeyman reputation remains useful. And this is the challenge for the Conservatives. Nicky Morgan was brought in as a mollifying minister who could calm some of the more outlandish tensions between the Tories and the education world, and possibly try to gain her party some electoral credit for the reforms that Gove fought hard to achieve. She needs to weaken the appeal for Labour of saying that ‘we will repeal Gove’s evil this that and the other’. This means that she cannot distance herself from anything her predecessor did, as to do so would suggest that Gove was in some way wrong. But she also needs to make the Tory education brand much more benign. Labour will be trying to keep Gove’s memory alive for as long as possible: Morgan’s challenge is to work out how to neutralise it without neutering the reforms that the former Education Secretary – and his Blairite predecessors – managed to achieve after hard graft and hard fighting.